2005: We ate, we ate, and we ate some more
2005 was an eventful year for us. In W’s case, because he had embarked on an exciting new venture he’s incredibly passionate about. In my case, because I had decided to leave a fairly cushy job as the fashion and beauty editor of a popular lifestyle glossy to freelance. Working from home, and empowered with the ability to accept or decline projects as I see fit, has meant that I have never been happier on many counts. Not least of which, because I now have the time, and consequently the right frame of mind, to cook in the manner that I’ve always wanted to – by hand, from scratch, with love and patience in as much as possible as often as I care to. Below, two meals from the final weeks of the fabulous year just past.
Spicy Prawn Bisque with Crab Dumplings
Inspired by a recipe in Neil Perry’s book, Rockpool, this dish marries classic French bisque-making technique with piquant Southeast Asian flavours. The intense base flavour comes from slowly frying prawn shells with a pounded spice paste of garlic, shallots, galangal, tumeric, lemongrass, kaffir lime zest and chillies before the alcohol (I used cognac) and chicken stock are added– sounds implausible, tastes fantastic. The dumplings are filled with freshly picked crab meat bound with prawn mousse. Fried curry leaves add the final, fragrant finishing touch.
Ann & Franco Taruschio’s Vincisgrassi
This is the delicious porcini and prosciutto variant of the luxurious lasagne dish that's a speciality of the Marche region, something I’ve written about previously. The recipe can be found in Ann and Franco Taruschio’s lovely book, Leaves from The Walnut Tree. Squares of silken homemade egg pasta are layered with parmesan and a rich besciamella thick with slivers of porcini and prosciutto, baked till crustily golden and served with a splash of white truffle oil.
Noir Orange Truffle Tart with Earl Grey Tea Ice Cream
Earl Grey Tea Ice Cream, adapted from a recipe in Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course, which I had infused with Mariage Frères’ elegant Earl Grey French Blue blend, is paired with a chocolate truffle tart designed to showcase the citrusy bergamot flavour of the tea – the crisp pâte sucrée shell is filled with a velvety cream made by blending some Earl Grey-flavoured crème anglaise with Valrhona’s Noir Orange 56% cacao dark chocolate. Unlike a straightforward cream-and-chocolate ganache which would have set firm when chilled, using custard for the base ensures the filling sets to a soft, pudding-like texture even when served straight from the fridge.
Handmade Squid Ink Noodles with Tiger Prawns, Squid, Chilli and Coriander
Adapted from Neil Perry’s signature recipe in Neale Whitaker’s The Accidental Foodie, this pasta dish blends robust Italian and Thai flavours to great effect. Slippery smooth squid ink noodles, freshly made, are tossed with stir-fried tiger prawns and squid spiked with chillies, coriander and fish sauce. Who would have thought? But like most Neil Perry recipes, the unlikely combination works beautifully.
Polenta with Truffled Brie & Caramelised Sage Butter
A hearty and wholly satisfying way with polenta that’s a recent addition to my repertoire and has since become a firm favourite in our home, something I make whenever W comes back from Geneva bearing fat, ripe wedges of luscious truffled brie. Roasted polenta flavoured with porcini is blanketed with unctuous truffled brie sauce, and given an added fillip of caramelised sage butter.
Cooked just so, these intensely flavoured little custards have a lovely texture. Best served in small portions thanks to their ultra rich nature, the recipe is from Michael Recchiuti and Fran Gage’s gorgeous book, Chocolate Obsession. Alongside, something crunchy is good – I used shards of buttery pecan toffee.